The tavern was grungy to say the least, not exactly the kind of establishment one would expect a celebrated war hero to take his dinner. Yet there he sat, muddy boots up on the tabletop, a cheap pipe between his lips, and his eyes on the serving girl as she delivered a lavish spread of what must have been the kitchen’s best. One could assume he liked the place because it was right on the ocean, a little out of the way of the bustling city, and he was, after all, a sailor at heart. The playful chords of a musician’s guitar danced in the air above the heavy scents of fish and salt.
The man was the only patron of the tavern sitting outside on its rotting deck, the setting sun on his blond hair and wind-burnt cheeks. He graced the serving girl with a grin as she brought him another mug of ale, and the things he said made her giggle.
As she set the mug down, her hip knocked into a sheathed sword leaning against the table, sending it clattering to the deck.
What an opportunity, he might have thought as he got out of his chair to pick up the weapon, to the girl’s frantic apologies. He put a hand on her waist with a never-you-mind smile, then proceeded to introduce himself, heels together, shoulders back, and hands along his sides.
Cheeks going as red as her hair, she nearly swooned right then.
“Aw, just get back to work, girl,” Roanna said into her hand as she watched them from the other side of the street.
“What was that, miss?” asked the dockmaster from his cleaning bucket, as he scrubbed sea salt from the front of his shop.
Roanna patted the counter she leaned against. “Nothin’, Osric.”
The serving girl clasped her hands together and dived into conversation with the man.
“Leave him to his damn meal,” Roanna said, shaking her head. She pulled her coin-shaped wooden charm out from inside her shirt collar and began winding the leather cord around her finger.
“Nothing, Osric. Mind your own damn business.”
Osric blinked at her, put his hand on his hip, the other holding his sopping wet rag, water pooling over the cracked counter. “It’s my shop you’re loiterin’ on for no good reason. Don’t you have something better to do? Or didya change your mind about some work for that ship o’ yours? Oh, bloody saints, you didn’t enlist in the army, did you?”
Roanna glanced down at her olive-green garb, a soldier’s jacket and breeches which didn’t rightfully belong to her. “Just blending in,” she said, caressing the flower carving on one side of her charm with a thumb.
Showing off a couple missing teeth, Osric smiled. “No work, then?”
“The Starling is in good, working order. Tip-top… though, she could use a polish. And some more line—the good stuff, not that shit from Tristram. I won’t have my men overboard in a storm on account of your corner-cutting.”
“I have some line in fresh from Capron, high quality.” Osric scrambled over the counter, even though the door was right there, and fetched his logbook and money. He made some illegible scribbles, muttering, “Polish and line for brigantine, the Starling, comes to, uh, five ket and seven.”
“Full kets?” Roanna tucked her charm into her gray undershirt. “That’s robbery, Osric.”
“Legal robbery,” he said, watching with hungry eyes as she pulled a purse from the inside of her jacket. “Oh, Miss LeRoux, if you would please warn yer in-port watch this time… if’n you recall.”
She stifled a laugh and slowly slid her coins across the counter, five shiny kets and seven half-sized kettings.
“I be meaning it, miss. One more o’ my boys gets shot, I won’t be doing business with you anymore.” Osric crossed his meaty arms and squinted one eye.
“He didn’t die is what I recall, and I paid for his medical expenses. Besides, it’s good to know my crew won’t hesitate to keep the boat out of more nefarious hands.” She replaced her significantly lighter purse.
The dockmaster scoffed. “More nefarious than you? The day that someone comes to port is the day I move inland and start a business knittin’ doilies!”
“Osric, you flatter me!” Laughing, Roanna turned around to lean her backside against the shop, looking out to the glittering ocean and the silhouettes of tall masts on the low sun.
“Yer delivery will be in tomorrow, miss,” Osric said. “Please, tell your men.”
“Will do, my friend. Will do.” She moved her gaze back to the tavern patron, only to find his table empty.
Her heart jumped into her throat as she launched away from the counter. She ran off the porch, the wood creaking beneath her boots, head whipping left to right at the street intersections.
His blue jacket and wavy blond hair weaved through the light foot traffic on her right.
Roanna trailed from a safe distance, keeping from the center of the street as she followed him through the market.
She ducked the dead fish the fishmongers waved in her face. A one-legged merchant, his hands covered in red tattoos of a legal Fetryn enchanter, tried to draw her in with a discount on the magical rings that prevented pregnancy. When a woman shouted right into her ear about her available candle scents, Roanna kept her eyes on the sailor’s back.
He turned left, away from the ocean.
Roanna dodged the crowd, turning the corner at a woodworking shop. A breeze cooled her skin, always a welcome feeling in Perdu’s tropic heat. She wanted to strip the fraying army coat from her sticky back and let her hair down from the tight bun.
“Good day, ma’am,” called a woman of Ela, dressed in her heavy white skirts. “Have you a coin to spare for Madam Divya’s house for orphans.”
Roanna already had her hand in her purse as she approached, and she pulled free the first coin her fingers touched. She placed it in the goodwoman’s brown hand. “Feed them well,” she said, realizing it was a full ket, the stamped gold shiny in the sun.
“Oh, saints thank ye, kind lady,” the woman said as Roanna continued past without missing a beat in her step.
Her sailor made a sharp right turn into a quiet, narrow alley. Roanna sped up to get eyes on him. She turned the corner, five strides behind him, the street empty but for the two of them. How intimate.
He reeked of that leaf he smoked so frequently, forever trapped in the threads of his old jacket. He hummed a popular sailing song she, too, had sung on many occasions.
She was three strides behind. Her steps landed silent on the cobbles.
At the far end of the alley, a slim figure in a dress waited on the corner, her back to the streetlight. Above her, a sign read Arlington Avenue with a flowering pot hanging down.
Two strides behind. They approached an intersection where another alley cut through the buildings. Against the wall where the roads met, a wooden bench beside the loading door of a shop was conveniently vacant. The perfect place for a private moment.
He whistled a short tune, causing the woman at the end of the street to look right and left.
Roanna’s pulse raced. She wiggled her left arm until the hilt of her knife slid into her right hand. She closed the distance between them, and the whole length of the blade slid upward between his ribs, all the way to the heart.
The sailor gave a slight jerk and a grunt of surprise as she withdrew the weapon.
She walked him to the bench, and they fell into it together. Pinching his bristly chin, she kissed his cheek. “For Emery.” A trickle of blood escaped a corner of his lips as the shine of life fled his eyes. Roanna concealed the knife in the sheath up her sleeve, and she strolled down the intersecting alley.
A chiming lady’s voice drifted down the street between buildings. “Oh, there you are, love!”
Roanna hastened down the cobbles. Before her, the road was bathed in sunlight. She was gone in the midst of the crowd before the typical city chatter was pierced by a shrill scream.